El Cheapo: Building A Rat Rod For $1,500. Episode 2 – The Body

Following our introduction to El Cheapo, the rat rod build by Tommy Ring, we proudly present the first full installment of the build:

Before we get started, we want everyone to check their egos at the door please, you will thank us later! The reason garages all over America, and the world for that matter, have at least one stall cluttered with an old piece of iron is simply EGO.

As men, we can’t admit we screwed up.

That said, the iron has set in these shops for years under the guise that, “I’m gonna get started on it this winter”, or “next spring,” or “when that tax check comes in,” or “blah blah blah.” The sad truth is, it will never be started and will be sold to the first junk dealer that comes down the pike and offers your wife a hundred dollar bill. This will probably within the first week after you die.

The other scenario is, that beloved hotrod will completely rot down sitting out back when everyone and their mother has tried to buy it from you only to get the statement “no, I’m gonna build it one day.”

Why?

Why does this happen over and over? The answer is simple. It’s called ego. As men, we can’t admit we screwed up and bought something we can’t finish, and to sell it would be to admit failure. I know the gig because I’ve lived it. Those “I don’t have the money,” or “I don’t have the time or space,” and the ever popular, ” I don’t have those special tools,” etc. Truth is, where there’s a will, there will always be a way.

The search for a body can take you just about anywhere. We found this one at the Goodguys Del Mar event in California. Many of these inexpensive bodies will not be in perfect shape, but you do need to make sure they will make a safe build. We’ll show you how to deal with some of the body problems in the next article in this series.

Another way that ego gets us in trouble goes like this: We see that ’38 Packard or ’50 Hudson for sale, and the ad says, “running when parked.” The ad doesn’t tell you that was about 10 years ago. Or the ad might even say; “only missing the right door or a trunk lid.” This is when the Ego kicks in, and we think; “Hey I could get this going pretty quick! I’ll just grab a door or whatever and get this thing fired up.”

Wrong! That part you need might not be anywhere for the body. Let’s not start a discussion about engine parts.  What to do, what to do? First, check your ego at the door. Then, when you are looking at that rusted hulk, be realistic and don’t buy it until you know you can get all of the parts to finish it.

Your best bet is not to buy a body unless you know you can get parts or you can fabricate what you need. Photo courtesy of Joe Rooney.

Secondly, be realistic about your abilities. If you have to hire work out, the price tag will get crazy pretty quick. Now, having said all of this, we’re dealing with a low-budget hotrod, so I will have to take a completely different approach anyway. But, the exact same principles remain, and even moreso, because I’m talking about finishing the whole rod for $1,500.00.

How Can You Do This For $1,500?

How can this be? We have to let our guard down and the ego fly far away. Be honest about what we can and cannot do. I purposely started with the body. For starters, a $1,500 build means that spending more than $500 to $600 on the body is out of the question. This eliminates ’32 and ’40 Fords. You’re talking about old truck cabs and car bodies that are just a shell.

Sometimes you get lucky and get a really solid body with nothing else. Photo courtesy of Joe Rooney.

That’s ok. There’s a world of possibilities with these. The truck cab can be a truck rod or a roadster. The old car bodies can be put together in many shapes and forms. This simplifies things, because in today’s market, you can buy enough 2x3x1/8-inch wall thickness tubing to build your own frame for $60 to $80. You can pull a rearend out of an old van or truck for $100.00, and you can buy an old truck straight axle for $100.00 as well.

With the right tech information, you can make this rod happen on the cheap. In the upcoming articles, we will get deep into the “how to” end of things from start to finish. The reason we start with the body is because all the measurements begin there. The frame length, rearend width, and many other things start with the body. Too often, guys will buy an S10 frame and try to build a rod around that, and they spend a fortune trying to revamp everything to fit. Not to mention the time they spent.

How We Are Starting

For our low-budget build, we will start with a truck cab. They are cheap, plentiful, and one of the easiest builds you will ever do. As we go along with other builds, we will get more complicated and of course the price tag will increase a little bit. For now, we think this truck will be a good fit for a reader trying to get into a hot rod cheap.

Truck bodies are still plentiful and affordable on any budget.

For the older, more established guys that have $60,000 to pump into a rod, please consider, the young guys working a minimum wage job with a baby on the way. They’re a few years away from that league, and I’m trying to give them a solution for their hotrod hunger right now.

Please remember the young guys working a minimum wage job with a baby on the way.

This cab we purchased was a ’48 Ford 3/4 ton truck. The reason I say was is because there’s nothing left of it but the cab. And I must say, even that is mighty rough. However, the price tag was $400.00 and that’s a great place to start.

It is noteworthy to mention that, at $400.00, you’re probably not going to get a prize cab. I would only say that you need to make sure the doors line up and close properly. Everything else you can work with.

In the case of this cab, it was well rusted at the bottom of the doors and the roof, where the windshield used to be. The center of the dash was rusted out because it sat outside for years with no windshield. The doors did open and close, however, the crank assemblies for the side glass on each side were totally shot.

This is the foundation for our build.

So what in the world are you going to do with a piece like this? We have a plan that makes it possible to breathe easy and overcome all of these problems. Oh, and one other thing… the floor is completely rusted out. Not to be cruel and leave you with a cliff hanger, we’re gonna be cruel and leave you with a cliff hanger.

Next time we will get into the process of what to do, how to do it in a cheap way, and still cure all the ills to make something cool from practically nothing. As my Daddy once said, it is possible to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. The trick is to do it on an extreme budget. This should give you plenty to think about for now, and some time for us to prepare the next article on this super budget build. See you next time!

About the author

Tommy Ring

Tommy’s love for Hotrods was passed down from the elder Ring who wrenched on cars and welded. Tommy’s living came from music as a road musician in venues across America. Tommy also worked as a studio musician and wrote for a jingle company, yet always had a project Rod going on the side. In 2009 Tommy opened RingRods HotRod Shop and in 2012 began writing for RatRod Magazine. Tommy also has a Rod Building Video sold worldwide. Tommy has been featured on TV, Radio, Podcast, and in several magazines.
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